Tech Law Advisor has reported [via John Battelle] that the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has denied Google’s motion to dismiss various trademark infringement and dilution claims brought by American Blinds against Google and others related to Google’s AdWords program.
John Welch at the TTABlog provides a detailed analysis of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s recent decision in In re Eddie Z’s Blinds and Drapery, Inc. which affirmed the examiner’s refusal to register BLINDSANDDRAPERY.COM as a trademark.
If you’re familiar with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, you can stop reading this post and click on over to the TTABlog to read about the decision. For a little bit of context, read the next two paragraphs.
The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB in shorthand) is a panel of administrative trademark judges in the United States Patent and Trademark Office that, among other things, hears appeals of trademark applicants who feel that their trademark registrations were wrongfully refused. In this context, the outcome of a proceeding is to determine whether the trademark in question is entitled to registration. The board does not award damages for trademark infringement or provide injunctive relief.
A generic term is not entitled to registration as a trademark. For example, one could not trademark the word APPLE if he or she is using the word when selling, well, apples. (The question of using the word APPLE in connection with different goods like computers is a separate inquiry – in such a case APPLE would not be generic, but would be arbitrary.)
The Seventh Circuit’s recent decision in the case of Native American Arts, Inc. v. The Waldron Corp. may be a bit off-topic for this blog – it’s not a case involving the Internet – but it’s still noteworthy because of its legal novelty and potential interest to trademark practitioners. This is the first reported appellate decision under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, 25 U.S.C. §305 et seq., which was enacted way back in 1935. Judge Posner’s decision upheld the judgment in favor of the defendant, but overturned the district court’s determination that certain regulations under the Act are unconstitutional. The court held that a jury is not required to be instructed that an “unqualified use” of the word “Indian” or a particular tribe’s name gives rise to a false suggestion that an art or craft item is an “Indian product.”
Native American Arts, Inc. v. The Waldron Corp., — F.3d —, 2005 WL 475357 (March 2, 2005).
The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted summary judgment in favor of a plaintiff who claimed that the defendant’s registration and use of fifteen domain names incorporating variations of plaintiff’s trademark KERACARE caused dilution of the mark.
Plaintiff Avlon owns the incontestable trademark registration for the mark KeraCare for hair care products. Defendant Robinson is in the hair care products industry as well, and does business under the name Sheldeez Hair Prouducts and Salon. Robinson registered at least fifteen domain names incorporating variations of Avlon’s mark, including www.keracare.com. From these sites, Robinson offered for sale hair care products made by both Avlon and Avlon’s competitors.
Avlon sued Robinson claiming, among other things, that Robinson’s incorporation of Avlon’s mark in his domain names diluted Avlon’s mark, in violation of Section 43(c) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(c). (Dilution is defined in Section 45 of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1127 as “the lessening of the capacity of a famous mark to identify and distinguish goods or services, regardless of the presence or absence of (1) competition between the owner of the famous mark and other parties, or (2) likelihood of confusion, mistake, or deception.) Avlon moved for summary judgment on the dilution claim, and the court granted Avlon’s motion.
Robinson first argued that Avlon had failed to show the KeraCare mark is famous. The court disagreed, and found that the mark is famous. The court noted that Robinson’s actions in part betrayed the mark’s fame – if the mark was unfamiliar to the vast majority of shoppers, Robinson would not have registered at least fifteen variants of the word as domain names. The court also gave weight to the fact that Avlon’s mark was incontestable under Section 15 of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. §1065. Finally, the court also gave weight to the fact that Avlon sells millions of dollars of KeraCare products annually, and that Robinson himself testified that the KeraCare line is one of four product lines that are “well known and respected in a marketplace ‘flooded’ with product lines.”
Robinson next argued that Avlon had failed to establish actual dilution of its mark as required by the Supreme Court’s decision in Moseley v. V Secret Catalogue, Inc. et al. 537 U.S. 418 (2003). The court was not persuaded by this argument. It looked to the portion of Moseley which states that “actual dilution can reliably be proved through circumstantial evidence–the obvious case is one where the junior and senior marks are identical.” Because Robinson’s domain names used Avlon’s exact marks, the court found that Avlon had shown actual dilution. The court noted that actual dilution was also supported by the fact that Robinson’s control over all possible variations of Avlon’s marks permitted him to decide what messages and goods are associated with such marks.
Avlon Indus. v. Robinson, 2005 WL 331561 (N.D.Ill. Feb. 8, 2005).